Fertilisers provide crops with the nutrients they need to grow, making them essential to the world’s food supply. In 2022, prices of synthetic fertilisers skyrocketed due to high energy prices and global shortages from the Russia-Ukraine war – further exacerbating the food crisis we are currently experiencing. What if we could provide farmers everywhere with accessible and affordable fertiliser solutions, while also reducing the impact of their use on the climate, soil, and water resources?

Meet Dooda Solutions, our 2022 TFF Finalist Team from Lebanon. This team produces affordable premium-quality solid and liquid bio-fertilisers for plants, crops, and flowers using advanced technologies powered by earthworms. Their decentralised and accessible vermicompost revives infertile soils, boosts plant immunity, increases soil’s water holding capacity, and reduces soil degradation – thereby supporting farmers to improve their productivity while adapting to the effects of climate change.

The problem

Soil is one of our planet’s most precious resources. Most life on earth depends on soil as a direct or indirect source of nutrients. Having a healthy soil ecosystem rich in nutrients and minerals is essential for growing healthy and strong plants, which makes the food we eat more nutritious too. Sadly, our world’s soil resources are currently being neglected, leading to the loss of 24 billion tons of soil each year.

Intensive agriculture is the catalyst of this tragedy. Unsustainable farming practices such as overtilling, overuse of inputs like synthetic fertilisers, grazing, and poor irrigation systems leave soils severely degraded. According to the FAO 33% of the Earth’s soils are already degraded and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.

Image credits: Chris Ensminger on Unsplash

These degraded soils are not productive. They aren’t able to store water or important nutrients. They also release carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. To combat this, farmers end up in a vicious cycle of needing to use huge amounts of synthetic fertilisers (that also use large amounts of fossil fuels) to restore the nutrients that are lost.

For major crops like maize, wheat or rice, fertilisers currently represent 20-40% of crop production costs. Volatility in fertiliser prices has always been a problem for farmers -especially smallholders in developing countries – but this situation has only worsened in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war. As Russia is the leading global supplier of synthetic fertilisers and the raw materials used to make them (such as potash and ammonia), war-related sanctions and export restrictions have led to shortages and increased prices all over the world. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), these are likely to remain high throughout the next decade.

The effects of persistently-high prices for fertilisers impacts farmers’ planting decisions, putting harvests at risk and reducing their profit margins.  It also ripples through the value chain, increasing food prices for consumers in markets that are already stressed by inflation. All of this foreshadows a grim potential future that is marred by climate catastrophes, increased hunger levels, mass migrations, and further conflicts.

This situation is dire, but presents an opportunity for innovators to find solutions that are more environmentally-friendly and accessible for farmers.

Enter: worms. 🪱

Image credits: Dooda Solutions

The Solution

They say “the early bird gets the worm,” and for Dooda Solutions this couldn’t ring more true. The woman-led agtech team based in Lebanon were early adopters to the amazing potential of worms for solving the world’s soil and fertiliser crisis – and now they are excited for farmers everywhere to catch on. 🪝🪱

This team has developed an high-tech system to produce premium-grade vermicompost that can be used as a bio-fertilizer by small and large farms across the Middle East and the world. Dooda Solutions strongly believes that its vermicompost can address the fertiliser shortage crisis we are facing, while also restoring degraded soils and fighting the global warming.

Vermicompost is the material left behind after worms eat and digest organic material, also known as worm castings. High in organic carbon, which plays a crucial role in soil fertility, vermicompost also includes all essential plant nutrients in appropriate proportions. Pure solid vermicompost can be used by traditional farmers, indoor planters, and gardeners. Liquid vermicompost is ideal for hydroponics and farms using smart irrigation systems.

Some of the benefits of using vermicompost include:

  • Recycle food waste
  • Restore degraded soils
  • Improve soil carbon sequestration
  • Boost crop immunity
  • Reduce reliance on fertiliser imports

Over the past 8 years, Dooda Solutions has developed and iterated their science-and-tech-based approaches and techniques for large-scale worm raising and castings harvesting. Their proprietary system includes worm feed monitors in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, where worms are fed with organic waste such as food waste or animal manure.

After the worms have digested this, the pure vermicompost layer is automatically collected and harvested from the bottom by scraping it away with a mechanised system that doesn’t interrupt the work of the worms on the surface. This continuous harvesting system is able to collect high-quality vermicompost, with accurate production forecasting that saves intense hours of manual labour, all in all making the whole production process faster and safer.

The team are selling liquid and solid vermicompost directly to organic and non-organic farmers via retailers and also through the online store on their website. In addition to selling the vermicompost product, they provide their customers with full soil testing, diagnosis, and expert recommendations on which of the 10 different formulations are best suited for use on their lands.

Unlike synthetic and organic fertilisers, Dooda Solutions’ vermicompost does not harm plant roots. Quite the opposite, as it actually enhances germination and improves root growth, meaning that over-fertilization is not a problem.

Most importantly, this product is not only helping to grow crops, it is also rebuilding and replenishing soil ecosystems thereby facilitating the transition to regenerative agriculture and the reliance on other synthetic inputs. Proven results from farmers using Dooda’s vermicompost include a 50% increase in crop yields, a 30% reduction in water consumption for irrigation, 30% reduction in farming costs, and 75% fewer pest attacks.

The advantage of Dooda Solutions from other vermicompost competitors is that their system offers an easy way to produce fertilisers cost-effectively that can be installed anywhere on the planet. Having access to locally-produced fertilisers helps countries to break their dependence on imports and decreases the cost of production for farmers. This is especially important for smallholders in developing countries whose livelihoods are at risk.

The Business

Dooda Solutions’ patented system is unlocking the full potential of earthworm farming, taking vermicompost production from small and niche to industrial scale. Vermicompost is a rapidly growing global market that is projected to reach USD 222.42 million by 2027 – and Dooda Solutions is focused on capturing that by expanding and increasing production over the coming months and years.

Currently, they are able to produce vermicompost biofertilizer at a rate of 6 tons per month, per machine, while recycling food waste and manure at a rate of 15 tons / month / machine. This translates to an annual production capacity of 600,000 litres of liquid vermicompost and 420 tons of solid vermicompost that can provide sustainable biofertilization options for more than 21,000 hectares of land.

Within three years, they expect to double this and reach production of 864 tons of vermicompost per year. They are the first company in Lebanon to be able to produce this level of high-quality liquid vermicompost locally, and strive to remain as market leaders in Lebanon and the MENA region – which on its own represents a market of nearly 10 million hectares of arable land.

The team is also building partnerships with farmers, cattle farms, and other partners to source organic material as the primary input to their production system, with a goal to save 900 tons of agricultural organic waste per year.

To date, Dooda Solutions has won 8 innovation awards all over the world and has raised more than USD $182,000, making them pioneer and leader in the vermicompost sector. Their vision is to deploy their technology in the places that need it the most – starting in MENA and expanding into Europe, and particularly the Netherlands where the livestock sector is urgently looking for solutions to cut emissions on or close to farms. Dooda Solutions has recently partnered with Dutch farmers in Wageningen, NL and started a pilot to show how using the vermicompost system can recycle manure and improve soil carbon sequestration.

They are now focused on securing more pilots and corporate partnerships to help them continue testing and verifying their product, so that they can scale rapidly and help countries achieve continuous local supply of bio-fertilisers.

Backstory

Dooda Solutions is a story of passion and lifetime dedication. CEO and Founder Nada Ghanem was raised in an agricultural community in the heart of the Chouf district in Lebanon, where she witnessed the daily struggles that farmers face. It was there that she found her initial spark towards finding a solution to improve farmers’ conditions.

In 2014, almost at the end of her university career in Ecosystem Management at the American University of Beirut, Nada had the opportunity to focus on earthworms for her MSc thesis. It was love at first sight. Her mind was blown by the ability of these small but mighty creatures to transform organic materials into precious high-quality organic fertilisers with their poop. She saw the big opportunity to work on this.

She immediately went on to work with 36 household farmers in Lebanon, introducing them to the power and potential of vermicompost. Nada conducted countless field trials that showcased how vermicompost could improve their crop yields, while also recycling their household waste. These experiences marked the beginning of Dooda Solutions as we know it today. Since then, she has been travelling worldwide, spreading the word about the importance of earthworms as soil engineers.

In 2020, Nada was ready to build a strong team to follow her in this journey. Looking for passionate people who were committed and share the same dedication to earthworms, she connected with Rami, Sherin, Beshier and Sara – an excellent group of business developers, communicators, and food engineers who joined Dooda Solutions because they believe in the mission and are willing to take the company to the next level.

The path of a female-entrepreneur in the MENA region is full of challenges that Nada, a true entrepreneurial warrior, has fought to overcome. It has sometimes been tough for her to be recognised as a changemaker in an entrenched and slow-moving industry like agriculture, but this has not stopped Nada from working tirelessly to achieve her dreams. She has spent the past eight years working day and night to build her company and raise awareness about the benefits of earthworms and vermicompost.

Nada applied for the TFF Challenge 2022 because she wanted to access a broader network of innovators and industry leaders that can help her to achieve her biggest dreams for Dooda Solutions. Nowadays, she is considered a leading expert in the vermicomposting industry and enjoys the title that we at TFF have given her: “the worm whisperer.”

What’s next?

Dooda Solution’s efforts are focused on scaling. She has her sights set on working with the biggest farms in the MENA regions, taking the technology to the Netherlands, and even developing small modular systems for consumers to do vermicomposting at home. The team is actively raising funds that they will use to improve their manufacturing capacity and abilities to access new markets. In addition, they have recently been selected among the Business Innovation Competition winners for 2022 in The Netherlands, proving once again the vital role of vermicompost in improving environmental sustainability and restoring soil fertility worldwide.

Dooda Solutions are currently taking part in the TFF Academy, our personalised start-up acceleration program for impact-focused agri-food-tech ventures, where they are developing their business model, go-to-market and fundraising strategies, and, of course, storytelling/messaging. We are also introducing them to relevant industry contacts and helping them build the product roadmap for the next few years.

If you want to find out more about Dooda Solutions, partner with them, or meet the team, please reach out to Elia at elia@thoughtforfood.org.